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Insider March 31, 2022 — Podcasts and cognac

and Facebook, oh my

We’ve gone four whole days, and I haven’t even mentioned the Oscars once! Don’t expect me to start now! Also, there’s no real audio angle.

Acast gets Creative with branded podcast episodes

Some listeners will always be hesitant to tune into branded shows because the commercial goal is so blatant, so my interest was piqued by a new approach Acast Creative is trying: creating just a branded episode or two within existing shows. It strikes me as a way to transcend the traditional podcast ad but not scare off listeners, and the early results look promising.

After collaborating with the podcast Guys Next Door on a block of programming for Black History Month, the cognac company Martell saw strong initial results, Acast tells me:

  • Listeners of those episodes were 102 percent more likely to expect to purchase cognac in the next three months as compared to people who hadn’t heard the episodes
  • Listeners were also 130 percent more likely to rank Martell as the brand of cognac they’d be most likely to purchase
    • For Black audiences, this latter stat showed a 258 percent jump from non-listeners to listeners, of note because this campaign centered on the Black experience 

Martell is now branching out — and scaling back — to brand single episodes in the feeds of three different Acast shows, moving even further away from the classic format of branded audio. Though this run does have a common thread — the campaign centers on joy and positive change for Black creators — the one-off approach has the potential to get even closer to a subtle, integrated ad. The multi-hyphenate artist Janelle Monáe appears in each of these episodes, and Shantae Howell, director of Acast Creative for the Americas, tells me that Monae brings different parts of herself to each, with every ensuing conversation morphing and adapting to meet the tone of the show.

On The Table is Ours, Howell says, the episode “focused on the importance of family and community,” while “on TranSlash, identity and activism are core to the conversation.” On Naked Beauty, meanwhile, Monáe talks mostly about beauty and fashion.

With a single episode that’s aligned to the tone of an existing show, I think branded content will be even easier to swallow, and maybe the returns will be even higher than they already were with the Guys Next Door block campaign. After all, listeners might not even know what Martell is doing or that it’s doing it on other shows. (Well. Some of them might know now.)

“You can’t do that on a podcast!”

It feels dumb to try to explain a joke, but apparently, Paul Rudd has been essentially Rickrolling Conan O’Brien for almost two decades by running a gag movie clip when appearing as a guest on O’Brien’s late-night show. The joke made sense on TV, where you could see the clip, but since O’Brien is now a podcast host, Rudd decided to try it out there, too.

Central to the setup is Rudd, the Hollywood darling who continually has projects to promote, telling O’Brien that he came prepared with a clip of a new project he’s working on. This time, he pivoted to a podcast backstory, and I think the funniest part of this is the insider-baseball details that make it sound so believable. Rudd explains that the narrative podcast is being produced for Audible and even mentions that one of the characters is voiced by Adam Scott, an actor who actually did recently star in a narrative audio project but by C13Features. (Not to miss an opportunity, the QCODE team, also known for its immersive audio fiction, swooped in and pitched itself to Rudd as a potential partner, should this fictitious project ever become real.)

I imagine the prank didn’t really land for listeners who only experienced it in audio form, but there was a screen in the recording studio on which O’Brien suddenly found himself watching the scene from the movie, and the interview was also being recorded on video, so you, too, can watch it. All the same, Rudd imagined it as an audio-only bombardment (he didn’t know there’d be a screen in the studio), and I’d say that O’Brien’s exasperated response is pretty fair: “You can’t do that on a podcast! It’s a visual joke!”

Meta’s strike at TikTok within larger fight for young users

And yesterday, Drew Harwell and internet scout Taylor Lorenz published a scoop for The Washington Post about specific ways Meta has tried to take down TikTok — as specific as hiring a PR firm to plant misleading headlines about the platform. It’s an actually bonkers play-by-play, and there are a couple reasons I thought I’d mention it here.

But first, here’s the rundown: a stealth PR campaign was commissioned to distract from the various bad raps of Facebook (by focusing, at times inaccurately, on “dangerous” trends on its competitor TikTok) and also push focus away from Meta’s monopolistic reach (working “to deflect from Meta’s own privacy and antitrust concerns”). Commissioned op-eds, for example, painted TikTok as a negative influence on teens’ behavior and appeared in publications around the US. The operation also waded into the discourse of TikTok as a non-American-owned company with young people’s data in its hands, ostensibly to stoke fear in a, like, McCarthyism way.

As strange as it feels to speak so simply about such a wild, wild scheme, this is worth saying:  young users are increasingly interested in TikTok, Facebook appears to interest fewer young users than ever, and a huge scheme can’t really change that. 

Podcasts are largely the domain of young audiences, so in the context of this investigation, Meta’s recent exploration of audio looks a lot like yet another play to lure young folks back. 

And for a while, it seemed like the podcasting play might have actually been… working? In Edison Research’s most recent Super Listeners Study, Facebook was in fourth place, tied with Amazon Music and iHeart, for how many respondents reported listening on the platform. But for a company that was largely reproducing something that already existed elsewhere and banking on socialization features to differentiate itself, users would need to trust the platform. And now they have yet another reason not to.

P.S. Another audio note is that Reply All gave us an early look at this specific misrepresentation of TikTok as it relates to Facebook. If you listen to Anna Foley’s report on the “devious licks” video trend — a phenomenon of students recording themselves with things they’d stolen, one of the things Meta sought to highlight as evidence of TikTok’s harm — you end up finding out that the real impact of the trend wasn’t the short-lived string of thefts as captured on TikTok but the paralyzing fear felt by parents and school officials after rumors spread in online groups about the trend getting worse. In other words, misinformation spread by adults, on platforms like Facebook.

bye now hope there’s no severe weather warnings wherever you are xoxo